The Best Netflix Originals of 2019 (So Far)
Netflix's ambition to be the world's foremost purveyor of Good Content shows no sign of slowing, with the company's spending on original programming set to hit $17.8 billion by 2020.
It's an investment that seems to be paying off too, with television series such as Russian Doll and Tuca & Bertie earning rave reviews from audiences and critics, and shows like Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened and Tidying Up with Marie Kondo dominating conversation on social media.
The streaming service is attracting big names, both in front of the camera with the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal fronting Velvet Buzzsaw, and behind the lens with Ava DuVernay directing the tremendously important Central Park Five series When They See Us.
If you're reading this thinking there's a lot you need to catch up, here's the full list of the best Netflix Originals you might have missed this year so far.
Always Be my Maybe
Ali Wong writes and stars in this story of childhood friends who reconnect 15 years after a falling out when Sasha (Wong) returns to San Francisco to open a restaurant. There she runs into Marcus (Randall Park) and the two remember what they had in common (hint: lots!)
Directed by Fresh off the Boat creator Nahnatchka Khan, the film joins Crazy Rich Asians as a welcome example of how the types of love stories we're seeing in TV and cinema are widening. What sounds like a template romantic comedy is made fresh by excellent performances by Wong and Park, and Keanu Reeves' playing a brilliantly written pastiche of himself.
Black Mirror (Season 5)
The fifth series of Charlie Brooker's dark series has all the usual techno-paranoia we've come to expect from the show, but repackaged in new nightmarish scenarios.
In 'Striking Vipers', VR and porn merge in a game which has dark consequences for two old friends, asking questions about how we behave online when we feel anonymous. 'Rachel, Jack And Ashley Too' stars Miley Cyrus as a pop sensation with a dark secret who becomes linked to a fan who buys a robot doll of her idol. The episode is a sinister take on YouTube stan culture, peddling empowerment for profit and the toxic side of the music industry.
'Smithereens' stars Fleabag's hot priest Andrew Scott as a ride share driver who adducts an employee of a social media company to try and get the attention of the company CEO. The reveal of why he needs to speak to him so urgently is a compelling argument for looking away from your phone.
When They See Us
Director Ava DuVernay's last Netflix venture was 2016 documentary 13th: a disturbing look at the history of slavery in the US, from Jim Crow to the modern private prison system. In When They See Us she turns her focus to the injustice of the Central Park Five - a group of black teenage boys who were falsely convicted for the assault of a jogger in 1990.
Highlighting the historic racism of the justice system, and telling the story of these children with cinematic flair, the dramatisation makes for difficult but important watching.
Tuca & Bertie (Season 1)
BoJack Horseman producer Lisa Hanawalt's new animated series has a similarly surreal feel to it. However instead of a washed up male sitcom star the focus is on the friendship between female birds Tuca (Tiffany Haddish), an arrogant, carefree toucan, and Bertie (Ali Wong), an anxious, daydreaming songbird.
The 10 part series is a trippy exploration of the weird world of Bird Town and its twisted inhabitants, with sweary appearances from names such as Richard E Grant and Taraji P Henson. Like Bojack, the comedy is the perfect guise for sadder subject matters, with issues such as the difficult sides of female friendship and cultural moments like the #MeToo movement disguised in funny moments.
I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson
Netflix may well have made its funniest series yet with this zany sketch show from Saturday Night Live alumni Tim Robinson. One sketch is about a compensation lawyer protecting people from situations like the toilet of your new house being swapped for one with a hole only small enough for farts. Another features a very aggressive best baby competition.
Perhaps the best is an Instagram-uploading brunch session where one girlfriend tries to join in on her friends' fake cutesy insults and calls them "sacks of shit", adding "if they died together nobody would shed a tear". Starring the likes of Vanessa Bayer, Cecily Strong, Fred Willard and Andy Samberg, the characters are offbeat without becoming annoying, and the show takes turns you don't see coming.
Dead to Me (Season 1)
Jen (Christina Applegate) and Judy (Linda Cardellini) strike up an unlikely friendship after meeting in a support group that Jen is visiting after her husband is killed in a hit and run. If you were expecting a touching tale about the solidarity of female friendship overcoming grief, this buddy film is far more riotous.
Jen tries to hunt down the car responsible for her husband's death while Judy attempts to shield her from a secret. It's a dark comedy that manages to move you, somewhere in between the smashed windscreens and casual one-liners about the life-ending pain of losing someone, all tied up with a teasing cliffhanger ending.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
There are few finer examples of schadenfreude than the story of how scam artist Billy McFarland tricked investors, customers, the music industry and a hive of influencers into believing he was throwing the festival of the decade. Fyre tells the inside story of how the promise of a good time turned into "Lord of the Flies with Instagram's top influencers", with the bar for how bad things can get being constantly lowered.
There are are enjoyable targets - like the kids who dropped $12,500 on a luxury tent in the hope of swimming in the same sea as Bella Hadid - and then there are less enjoyable victims, like the Bahamian restaurant owner who cleaned out her savings to pay the workers. In showing the serious repercussions to what was widely seen as swift justice for the entitled, Fyre shows who really loses out in the scams of the wealthy.
Orange is the New Black star Natasha Lyonne finally gets a leading role worthy of her on-screen charm in this story of a women who relives the same New York party over and over again, each time dying in a myriad of unfortunate ways. Written and directed by Lyonne as well as Parks and Recreation star Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland, it refreshingly spotlights a woman in her late thirties, who is having fun and casual sex without needing to include a neat love story or romantic ending.
Against the backdrop of death there's a lot of consideration of life as it throws up questions about friendship, family, sex and love. With looping narratives that become more interesting each time, Russian Doll is a madcap mixture between Groundhog Dayand The Good Place.
A satirical thriller set in the art scene of Los Angeles, Velvet Buzzsaw satisfyingly skewers the critics and collectors of this underworld and sees Jake Gyllenhaal reunited with Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy.
Here pretentious installations and vapid art enthusiasts are the primary target, think "Kindergarten go-pro" exhibitions and people asking "are those the new Persols?" in response to somebody wearing optician-issue light sensitivity glasses. The supporting cast of Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge make an excellent pack of wheelers and dealers trying to cash in on the work of a unknown dead artist. Thankfully, justice is served in gruesome fashion when the work comes to life and goes after this pack of reprobates.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.